Want to host the ultimate movie night? How about split-screen Mario Kart on a display that feels like every player has their own TV? You can have all this, and more, if you bite the bullet and buy a projector. But there are some drawbacks to know about, as we’ll explain.
Projectors Are Small and Mighty
Even a modest-sized TV can be a hassle to move or install. Transporting a TV from one room to another can be such a logistical nightmare that it’s easier to plan events around where the TV is currently located, rather than where you’d rather it take place. That’s not the case with a projector.
Projectors are about the same size as a modern console while projecting an image that dwarfs the average TV set. To relocate a projector you simply turn it off, pick it up, and set it down. You’ll need to calibrate things like focus and projection distance on the other end, but it’s a lot easier to do this yourself than it is to drag a TV from one room to another. Unlike a TV, you can temporarily relocate a projector outside or pack it in a carry case for traveling.
You’ll also get a huge 100-inch or greater display size from that same tiny box. You’re mostly limited by how much wall space you have and whether you have a suitable surface on which to project an image. Like your projector, screens and be rolled up and carried around relatively easily (or you can go the budget route and use a white bedsheet instead).
An equivalent-sized TV would cost significantly more than your projector, be too large and heavy to move, and might not even fit through your living room door in the first place. If you’re a fan of hiding a TV while it’s not in use, you’ll probably prefer the minimalist look of a projector too (complete the look with a retractable screen).
Ultra Short Throw Projectors Are Convenient
Once upon a time, you’d need to make sure that you had a clear space between the projector and the screen or projection surface. You’d also need to place any sources (like a Blu-ray player or game console) near the projector, rather than on a traditional media or entertainment unit. With the arrival of ultra-short throw (UST) projectors, that’s no longer the case.
Also known as “laser TVs” these convenient devices sit right in front of the surface on which you want to project. Unlike standard projectors, most use a laser which offers a far greater lifespan compared with traditional “bulb” models. UST projectors have a fixed-size screen, with around 130 inches being the limit at the time of writing.
These projectors look best with the use of a UST-specific screen that uses ambient light rejection (ALR), and many come with a screen in the box. These screens use angled ridges to capture and project light coming from the extreme angle at which the projector is positioned while deflecting light coming from windows or lamps within the room.
Before you get too excited, buying a UST and a screen to match is still an expensive endeavor. A good entry-level 4K HDR option like the Hisense 100L5G-CINE100A with a screen in the box will set you back around $3,000. Pricier options like the LG HU85LA cost around the same on sale without a screen in the box. You could pay a couple of thousand dollars for a quality aftermarket screen, and even more for a motorized version that tucks away nicely.
RELATED: Are Laser Projectors Really Worth $3,000?
Projectors Might Not Be a Great Choice for Gaming
Projectors typically have higher response times than televisions, particularly modern TVs that include low-latency modes specifically for gaming. Some models like the Optoma UHD35x feature accommodations that should please gamers like a 4.2ms response time at 1080p, but this increases to 16ms for 4K output. At 60 frames per second, you’re waiting an entire frame’s worth of input (16.66ms) for the projector to respond.
Compared to modern OLED TVs (which feature excellent response times and cost around the same price as the Optoma), projectors fall short. The LG C2 has an input latency of 5.3ms at 4K 120Hz or 10ms at 4K 60Hz. Other less game-optimized projectors are likely to fare much worse in terms of input lag, making anything other than single-player or slow-paced gameplay a frustrating experience.
With a focus on low latency gaming, the Optoma UHD35x is one of the best projector choices if gaming is a priority.
The Optoma also features up to 240Hz refresh rate at 1080p, but only 60Hz at 4K. This highlights another shortcoming present on many projectors since most modern TV panels now refresh at 120Hz for 4K content. On top of this, there’s no support for variable refresh rate (VRR) technology like FreeSync, something else that the vast majority of budget TVs and monitors now include.
One thing you do get from a projector is the spectacle of having whatever you’re playing on a wall-sized screen. But for your money, you might as well buy something with lower input lag with features that benefit your use case like VRR, HDMI 2.1, and 4K at 120Hz instead.
Don’t Forget About Sound
Some projectors include an in-built speaker, but the sound quality is often underwhelming (worse than many TV speakers). If the projector is mounted on the ceiling a few feet behind you, things are going to sound even worse. Some UST projectors fare far better since they sit directly in front of the screen, but most aren’t built with immersive audio in mind.
You’ll need to factor this expense into your purchasing decision. A budget soundbar can make all the difference in solving the problem without taking up too much space. If you’re going for the full theatre experience, you’ll probably want to invest in a proper Dolby Atmos 7.1 setup instead.
A Nice Projector Setup Will Cost You
It’s not hard to find a cheap 1080p or 2K projector that will do a good job, but for the full 4K HDR experience expect to open your wallet. Something like the Epson Home Cinema LS11000 will cost two to three times the price of a high-end TV. Unfortunately, your pricey projector won’t look its best without a good screen. If you can’t spring for a pricey screen with ambient light rejection qualities, consider buying a new set of blackout blinds instead since you’ll need to control the light in the room for the best picture quality.
Epson Home Cinema LS11000 4K PRO-UHD Laser Projector
If money and space is no object, the Epson LS11000 is a 4K HDR laser projector with a brightness of 2,500 lumens, support for HDR10/HDR10+/HLG, and up to 120Hz at 4K.
On top of this, you may have wiring and installation costs to take care of. For UST projectors this isn’t an issue but if you’re mounting your projector on the ceiling and don’t want a spaghetti monster of cables in the middle of the room then a proper AV installation might be a good idea. And then there’s the aforementioned sound problem too.
When all is said and done, you could have spent a lot more on your setup than you could if you’d have opted for an OLED like the LG C2, a QD-OLED like Samsung S95B, or a high-end QLED like the Samsung QN90B. The OLED models in particular offer the best contrast ratios of the bunch, and a QLED TV is still unbeatable in terms of providing a bright image in a well-lit room and fast input response times.
Samsung QN90B 4K QLED
One of the best LED-LCD TVs you can buy, Samsung's QN90B is a bright and beautiful set that's ideal for watching movies, TV shows and playing games in both HDR and SDR formats.
These TVs play nicely with the latest consoles, have 120Hz panels, come with all the apps you could need, and, though nothing lasts forever, you at least won’t have to replace the bulb after a few hundred hours.
Which Is Better: A TV or Projector?
Though a lot of what is written above may sound negative, we’re not trying to crush your dreams of owning a projector. Buying a projector isn’t quite as easy a decision as buying a TV. You need to factor in a lot more than where you’re going to put it, including a screen, ambient light, speakers, suitability for gaming, and installation.
Owning a projector is more about the experience of watching something on a massive screen in your own house. You might not want to replace your TV with a projector altogether, or you might have very specific plans on how you want to use it: in a games room, turning your basement into a cinema, or making an outdoor entertainment area.
With this in mind, there’s probably a projector out there for your use case in mind. A better question might be: is there a projector out there for me, and if so which one should I buy? And lastly: do you really need a screen to go with your projector?
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